Irish priests of the diocese to be honored with Celtic cross
Some families held what amounted to a wake just before a young Irish priest set sail for America in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
“Many of them felt they would never see their loved one again,” Pat Hanrahan said. “With some of the earlier priests that was true. They came over on the old ships and never went back.”
Fr. Sean O’Shea, a priest of the Diocese of Wichita who left Ireland in 1950, recalled the day he set sail for America while at a dinner with Pat and his wife, Renee.
“He was looking down from the ship at his dad, his father,” Pat said. “He could see the look on his father’s face as the ship started to pull away from the dock. As he told us that story, his eyes were wet with tears.”
That’s how much they sacrificed, Pat said. “That’s how much those priests who came to America were giving up: father and mother and family to follow Jesus for the calling they had in the States.”
Wanted to honor the Irish priests
Because of their generosity to the church, the Hanrahans decided to honor the nearly 60 priests who gave up their families, crossed the Atlantic, and made their way to Kansas to serve the faithful of the diocese.
Fr. John Sherlock, a priest from Ireland who eventually ended up in the Diocese of Wichita, experienced the challenges his brother priests from the Emerald Isle had.
“So what could we do to honor those priests?” he said, adding that he and the Hanrahans discussed several possibilities about how to pay respect to the contributions of the Irish priests. “We came up with the idea of something more permanent. What could be permanent, if not the idea of the cross. But not just any old cross, so to speak. What about a Celtic cross? Because that would represent the Irish here in the diaspora.”
After verifying that granite was quarried in Ireland, Pat suggested they honor the priests with a Celtic Cross made of Irish granite.
Cross will make the same trip
“It is symbolic because this cross will be made of granite from the Wicklow Mountains and will be coming on a ship across the Atlantic to the Americas, just like so many of those Irish priests did so long ago,” Pat said, adding that the quarry is midway between two seminaries that produced many of the priests who came to America.
Fr. Sherlock said another challenge was the thought of etching 60 names on the two-foot-tall base of a six-foot cross.
“We came up with the idea that instead of having their names on the granite or a plaque we would have a QR code somewhere that would tie directly from a phone or an iPad to a diocesan webpage.”
The website will contain photographs of the priests, a biography, and when possible photographs of their tombstones – even those buried in Ireland.
Father Sherlocks’ expertise has made it easier to contact the families of the deceased priests of the Diocese of Wichita who were buried in Ireland.
Families helping in Ireland
“His family has adopted this project for us. His sister is finding some of the priests’ burial sites,” she said. “We’ve been able to find several family members – great-nieces and nephews – who are excited about this project. They’ve been sharing resources with us.”
It has been a labor of love for the Hanrahans, too, she said, adding that she and Pat both have Irish ancestors.
Pat said they shared the idea with Bishop Carl A. Kemme early in the planning stages. He supported the idea but rejected their suggestion about where to locate the cross. “He gave us an even better spot.”
The interactive Celtic cross honoring the Irish priests who served in the Diocese of Wichita will be located in an interior garden area just east of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita.
The Hanrahans are members of Church of the Magdalen Parish. Fr. Sherlock is now retired for active ministry.